Islamabad - Saira Afzal Tarar, the minister for national health services, took serious notice of the upsurge in polio cases in the country and convened an emergency meeting of key stakeholders on Wednesday to take stock of the situation.

Muhammad Ayub Sheikh, secretary ministry of national health, and senior officials of World Health Organisation, UNICEF and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were present on the occasion. Addressing the participants the minister remarked that while the federal government was ensuring the uninterrupted supply of polio vaccines and provision of resources for operational cost and logistics, there was a need for provincial and district governments to re-double their efforts and assure that gaps in campaign quality were fixed prior to each campaign round.

The federal government during the current month approved PC-1 for polio programme to provide resources for the next three years. Likewise, when temporary WHO recommendations on travellers from Pakistan were imposed, the federal government arranged additional vaccine to cater to over 27,000 outbound travellers every day by eliciting support of the government of Saudi Arabia.

The minister expressed serious concern over the fact that out of 171 cases of polio recorded so far this year, 158 are from security compromised areas of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP).

The minister was informed that ban on polio campaign in North Waziristan from where maximum cases were reported coupled with insecurity in Bara and Tirah are responsible for cases in FATA. Besides this cases are also being recorded in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa contiguous to FATA which are also marked by insecurity and polio campaigns cannot be conducted as per requirements. The minister was informed that using the exodus of IDPs from North Waziristan as an opportunity, all IDP children less than 10 years of age were immunised through permanent transit points and special campaigns for host communities.

The minister directed immediate operationalisation of polio emergency operation cell in Islamabad to collect real-time data for rapid response and constituted a team led by secretary ministry of NHSR&C to identify gaps in quality of preparations by provinces for next round of polio campaigns and give suggestions and guidelines to the Provincial teams for improvement. The minister reiterated her strongest commitment to supporting the provinces in quality implementation of polio campaigns.